The High-Stakes Design of Hunt Showdown
In our latest video from our YouTube channel, Duncan dives into the design of Hunt Showdown to see what sets it apart from other multiplayer shooters. Click below to watch, or scroll down to read it as a feature piece. Either way, enjoy!
Multiplayer shooters today, eh?
If they aren’t battle royales that are trying desperately to capture some of Fortnite's success, they’re probably pre-existing franchises that constantly reinvent themselves to keep players interested.
Online shooters have been overwhelmingly popular for about 2 decades now. They’re a genre of games that allow for entertaining fun with friends, and major skill checks against competitive players. Until recently, however, I really didn’t realise how low the minute-to-minute stakes were in pretty much all of them.
There are a lot of different factors when it comes to designing meaningful multiplayer shooters. On one end of the spectrum, you have games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Star Wars: Battlefront. I'm aware these games can be played to a competitive standard, but hopefully, you’ll agree that for the majority of people, these are fairly casual shooter experiences. A couple of reasons for that is you have limitless lives in one match, the maps you play in are fairly small so enemy encounters are common, you get plenty of ammo so you can be inaccurate and mistakes don’t mean as much, and you’re made to feel really powerful with plenty of gear which you get every single time you respawn. Overall, one life means very little in a game like this, and so excitement levels are pretty low.
Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, you have team games like Overwatch and Counter-Strike, In these, incentives are high, but you still have multiple lives and enemy encounters are still pretty common so, once again, the intensity is still fairly low if you aren’t playing to a competitive standard.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have battle royale games. Things like Fortnite and PUBG in which you only have one life, and you spawn with nothing. Stakes here can be pretty high because one life is all you have and it, therefore, matters a lot if you die. The problems come with the lack of progression and incentives players receive. When you win, you don’t have anything to show for it and if you want any kind of objective other than “Be tHe LaSt PeRsOn sTanDiNg”, you’re going to be found wanting.
Now please don’t think I’m condemning all of these games - I enjoy a lot of them myself. What I’m trying to say is - I’ve been playing a multiplayer shooter recently that’s minute-to-minute stakes are so high, it’s made me pick up on a lot of the shortcomings of this genre.
I am gonna hazard a guess here: you have never heard of this game before.
Well, that's understandable - I hadn’t heard a single thing about Hunt Showdown before April either, and I maintain that even though the game is finally seeing some increased popularity– Hunt Showdown is probably the greatest game that you have never heard of. So, assuming that’s true, let me explain to you what this game is...
Made by German developer Crytek, Hunt Showdown is a first-person PVEVP (see below) game set in the zombie-infested swamps of Louisiana in the 1890s. Players will drop in themselves, or in teams of two or three and try to hunt down clues that will lead them to AI demon bosses. Once you find three clues, you find a boss. Once you find a boss, you kill that boss and begin a banishment process to send its soul to hell. Once that 3-minute process finishes players have to collect the boss’s bounty token and try to escape to an extraction point.
Sounds... simple enough, right?
Well, while you try to do all of that, up to 11 other players are also trying to do the exact same thing, meaning at any point of that process you could run into enemy hunters and if you do... let’s just say there’s no sharing in the bayou.
If you manage to escape the swamps (which you can do at any time, by the way), you keep your hunter, their weapons, their equipment, and their experience points. Before heading out again, you can then upgrade your character with better weapons, upgrade perks, and fresh equipment. If you die, which you definitely will (a lot ), you lose that in-game character and all of their progress and gear.
Alright so there’s a tonne that’s going on in the game, and without playing, you’d be excused for thinking it might be a wee bit too busy for a multiplayer game. Honestly? Yea, there is a lot to this game, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of how deep its design systems go. What I can guarantee is that this game is the most intense multiplayer experience I have ever had. It is quite literally heart-attack inducing. The stakes are so high that if Han Solo played it he’d have to change his name to Han SO-HIGH!
Alright before I make anyone else click off the article and never return to our website again I’m gonna get into why this game is so great...
REALISM DONE RIGHT
The first reason this game succeeds in being so intense is by having deeply realistic elements.
I know, I know.
7 months ago I told you Red Dead 2 was bad because of its realism, I know. But here’s the kicker - Hunt Showdown is so good that it has changed my mind about realism in games.
You may remember that my problem with Red Dead 2 was that its realism constantly got in its own way. It wasn’t realistic in a fun way, it was only realistic to try to be "impressive". Hunt, on the other hand, is realistic in order to make the game more intense, more tactical, and more enjoyable.
The most realistic thing about this game is its sound design. I have never played a multiplayer game that places so much emphasis on its sound design before. Everything you do in Hunt is audible to other players. And I mean EVER-Y-THING.
Swap weapons? Audible. Reload? Audible. Go into dark sight to look where a clue is? Audible. Crouch-walk? Audible. Agro a zombie? Audible. Pick up a boss bounty? Audible. Cooking some dynamite before you throw it? Put those headphones on and listen to your favourite audiobook because you'd better believe it's audible!
Not only that, but everything has realistic audio ranging, which means some things like gunfire will be heard from across the length of the entire kilometer-wide map, while things like crows being scared away can only be heard from smaller distances.
The sound design in this game is so good that players can go Sherlock Holmes on you and use deductive reasoning to find out exactly where you are on the map, and even figure out what weapons you’re using.
Speaking of weapons, the gunplay is also very realistic. Since the game is set in the 1890s bolt action rifles are state of the art so all but one of the weapons in Hunt is single-fire. This forces you to be accurate, to make your shots count, and to plan out what your tactics and play style are.
Bullet velocity in Hunt is also realistic for each ammo type. Each gun is so detailed that guide makers on YouTube like 4FS Gaming can give you scientific evidence as to why one gun is better in a certain situation than another.
Despite all this, Hunt is also extremely fantastical. And believe it or not, that actually makes the realism better.
The game’s realism for PVP elements doesn’t get in the way of its larger than life PVE elements, and vice versa. The reason this helps the game be more intense is that shootouts between players are so tactical that they are a pretty legit simulation of your choices if these scenarios were real. Play one round, or even watch one on youtube and you’ll understand completely.
I’M NO SUPERMAN
I’ll quite comfortably say that Hunt Showdown has some real horror elements. One reason for that is that the best horror games will significantly weaken the player so that what they have to deal with is more threatening, and that’s exactly what Hunt does.
In Hunt, the odds are always stacked against you. The PVE in this game is no joke to be taken lightly. Even a base grunt can take off some serious health chunks if you don’t deal with it properly. And then are the variants: The hive that will poison you, The Immolater who will explode and set you on fire, The Hounds that will surround you and bleed you to death. Let too many of these zombies overwhelm you at once, and you will lose a significant amount of health, or even die before you get to see other players.
That's not to mention how beautiful the design of all of these monsters is. These things might be terrifying, but at least they look like a bunch of rejected monsters inc. characters?
Even in firefights with other players, you’re still not all-powerful. As mentioned, these guns take time to reload and all of them are meticulously balanced so every player has weaknesses no matter what gun they use.
You might wanna take in a pistol with a high fire rate, but its damage and accuracy will be significantly weak. Take in one that has tonnes of power and range, and its fire rate and recoil will hold you back. Every gun in Hunt is balanced this way so that no matter how good you get, no matter how many hours you put in, you are always very killable. The result is an incredibly balanced multiplayer experience that always keeps your heart racing, but unlike any other multiplayer shooter I’ve played, its never with anger at an overpowered weapon.
Don’t you hate when you’re playing a game like Call of Duty and no one plays the objectives?
This is because in games like these the incentives are all wrong. Scores don’t favour objective play, they favour whoever has the most kills, so players would rather spend time trying to kill as many people as possible rather than capture a control point.
Hunt Showdown, on the other hand, gets incentives so right. It’s designed to make you want to engage with enemy players and the PVE bosses. If you just hunt for demon bosses to collect the bounty tokens, other players will target you when they find your boss. Just hunt for players and not only will you be putting yourself at greater risk of having your head clicked, but someone else might beat you to the punch and get out of the map with the bounty token you want.
But all in all, there’s no real win state in Hunt Showdown. There’s no victory royale or credit screen when you wipe a server. Because the core gameplay loop is so intense, success of any kind can be considered a "win".
Kill a boss in a cool way but get shot in the head and lose your hunter? You’ll still probably feel good about the way you killed the boss.
Die inches away from an extraction point but kill four hunters before then? You’ll be more confident in your PVP experiences next match.
By far, the biggest incentive to survive is keeping your hunter and their loadout. The economy of Hunt Showdown is luckily the most forgiving part of the game, meaning even if you go on losing streaks which can happen fairly regularly, you can still afford cheap weapons. Thanks to how balanced everything is, you’ll still have a chance at "winning" with those cheap weapons. However, if I told you that it wasn’t an absolute sweatshop when you can see your money drop by the thousands every time you die, I’d be lying.
Going out into every hunt session is a gamble, and it's up to you how much you wanna put down on this high stakes table.
In Hunt Showdown, team sizes are small. This means that the stakes are once again through the roof because if you mess it up, it's on you. No blaming your teammates in Call of Duty or Overwatch because they played poorly. If you miss a shot, it's your fault. If you don’t pay attention to the sounds around you and get caught off guard, it's your fault.
These small team sizes also mean that each individual player will be under a microscope at least once during a match. If your teammate dies, you can resurrect them so long as they have the health to support it, but you’ll need to take out whatever killed them in order to do it. Mess it up, and you guessed it, it's on you.
You’d be surprised how intense things get when there’s no one else to blame but yourself.
Hopefully, after all this, you can see why I have fallen so deeply in love with this game over the past couple of months. Never have I played a shooter like this that’s made me scared to play on my own. Hunt is quite easily one of the best shooter experiences I have ever had, although I do have to tell you the biggest problem with it before I wrap things up.
Before its full release earlier in 2020, Hunt was in early access since 2018, and while that may have helped the game to become better, it hasn’t helped its popularity. The game isn’t exactly in trouble by any means, and if anything, it's only getting more popular from here. The problem is; it would break my heart if this game’s lacklustre marketing was its downfall.
This game is a total masterpiece that at the moment is completely overlooked.
I implore you to give Hunt Showdown a try. It isn’t forgiving, and it isn’t exactly the chilled out game you might want to play every day. But once Hunt hooks you, you will need to play every day.